Sununu set to nominate MacDonald to serve as chief justice

  • Gordon MacDonald AP

Monitor staff
Published: 1/6/2021 3:51:40 PM
Modified: 1/6/2021 3:51:29 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu will nominate Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to serve as the chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, a year and a half after first nominating him, and after a year of keeping the position vacant when Democrats voted him down in 2019.

“Gordon has served this state with distinction as attorney general for the last four years, and I am honored to nominate him to lead our state’s highest court,” Sununu said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Sununu cited MacDonald’s work as attorney general in filing lawsuits on behalf of the state to combat companies responsible for PFAS contamination, and the Department of Justice’s recent action brought against Massachusetts over the Bay State’s collection of income tax for New Hampshire workers who have stopped commuting south during the pandemic. Those actions, Sununu said, would put MacDonald in a strong position to lead New Hampshire’s highest court.

“Gordon has never been afraid to take the action that he believes is right, even when that course may not be the easiest,” Sununu said.

But the nomination is tinged with bitter partisan history.

MacDonald was first nominated to lead the five-member Supreme Court in 2019, with broad support from the state’s legal community, intended to succeed Robert Lynn, who retired that year after hitting the 70-year-old age cap.

At the time, Democrats and progressive groups objected to his past legal work for the Roman Catholic Church and his work for Republican politicians, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former New Hampshire senator Gordon Humphrey. MacDonald was painted by some as a potential anti-abortion vote; other Democrats cited his lack of experience as a judge. In summer 2019, the Democratically controlled Executive Council voted down his nomination, 3-2, citing those objections.

That vote touched a nerve with Sununu, who argued that Democrats had improperly struck him down for political leanings when the decision should have been made on the merits. At the time, Sununu said he would not nominate a new chief justice until Democrats apologized for the rationale behind the vote and pledged to use different criteria in the future.

The governor has not brought forward a nominee since 2019; the Supreme Court has remained with four justices since August 2019.

In November, Republicans flipped the Executive Council, which they now control, 4-1. Shortly after that election, Sununu told reporters he would be looking to fill the chief justice position.

In his statement Tuesday, Sununu brushed past the prior confirmation attempt, pointing to MacDonald’s career in state service.

Before serving as attorney general, MacDonald was a partner and litigator at Nixon Peabody LLP, where he handled health care litigation. He’s graduated from Dartmouth College and Cornell Law School.

“Our Department of Justice has continued to thrive under Gordon’s leadership and I am confident that, if confirmed, Gordon will lead our Judicial Branch with distinction,” Sununu said.

Lynn, who is now a Republican state representative from Windham, also praised the nomination, calling MacDonald “smart, hardworking, thoughtful, and fair minded.”

In his own statement responding to the nomination announcement, MacDonald thanked the governor.

“I am grateful to Governor Sununu for the confidence he has placed in me and for the prospective opportunity to serve the people of New Hampshire in this extraordinarily important role,” MacDonald said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at 369-3307,, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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